Georgia’s First Land Lottery

Two centuries ago the State of Georgia was about to embark on a unique method of dispersing its lands to its citizens.  Authorized by the Georgia Legislature in 1803, the Land Lottery of 1805 was the first of its kind in the young nation, at least on a massive scale.  For the next quarter century, nearly three quarters of Georgia would be awarded to fortunate drawers or those wealthy enough or those willing to move their homes and families to the wilderness of uninhabited lands.

For seven decades, lands in Georgia were granted by the King of England or through a system known as headrights.    Headrights were usually reserved to heads of families and as bounties for soldiers of the Continental Army.  Grants were subject to bribery and as rewards for political favors. During the 1790s, two scandals, the Yazoo Fraud and the Pine Barrens Scandal, tainted the system, though neither were directly involved in the distribution of lands between the Ogeechee and Oconee

Future site of Dublin, 1805.

On May 11, 1803, the legislature enacted a statute providing for a lottery system to divide the lands of the newly created counties of Wilkinson, Baldwin and Wayne.  Wilkinson County encompassed all the land bounded by the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers  lying south of a line running 45 degrees southwest from Fort Wilkinson, while Baldwin County would contain all of the land lying north of the line. The enabling act provided that  Wilkinson County be divided into five land districts divided into land lots containing 202.5 acres each. Fractional lots were often necessary to allocate lands which lay along land district lines.  All of the 1st Land District and a large portion of the 2nd Land District lie within the bounds of current day Laurens County.

Garland Hardwick, 2nd District Surveyor, began surveying the 2nd Land District of Wilkinson County on May 13, 1804.  Hardwick, with the aid of John Vining, William Clark, Isaac Shores and Jesse Lively completed the survey on November 6, 1804.  Eleven days later, 1st District Surveyor James Lamar began his survey of the 1st Land District at the lower end of the lands distributed by the 1805 Land Lottery.  John Foalk, George Johnson, Robert Fullingame, Thomas Brantley, John Roberts and James Miller carried the chains until the work was finally completed on April 5, 1805.  These men worked under difficult circumstances at best.  Most of the Indians were gone, but there were no places around to get food and supplies. They either killed their own game, gathered fruits and ferries, or were provided supplies by merchants east of the Oconee in Washington and Montgomery counties.

Each surveyor hired two chain carriers, who carried a half-chain with a length of two perches or thirty-three feet and which was composed of fifty links.  The surveyor established the direction of the lot or district line, on which the chain carriers laid the chain down forty-five times for each side of a land lot.   Axe men were necessary to removable obstacles along the line and to mark boundary line trees and corners with chop marks on wooden stakes.  The surveyor was required to post a bond in the amount of ten thousand dollars to insure the faithful discharge of the trusted reposed in and the duties required of them.  The surveyor was compensated by the mile at the rate of two dollars and seventy-five cents per mile. Out of this payment, the surveyor had to pay the chain carriers, axe men and all other expenses in connection with the work.

The first lottery was held on July 22, 1805.  In order to qualify for the lottery, prospective aspiring land owners had to file a written application to the Inferior Court within their county.  Single white males over 21 and minor orphans and families of orphans were entitled to one draw.  Male head of households and widows with minor orphans were given two chances to draw a prized lot.  Soldiers of the Continental Army, who had heretofore been given preference in choosing lands, were given no special privileges.   Jared Irwin, a former and future governor of Georgia and resident of Washington County, was President of the Lottery Commission.

The First Land District was composed of 246 whole lots and 60 fractional lots.  The district included all of the land south of the mouth of the county’s northernmost Rocky Creek between the Oconee River and Turkey Creek.  The first whole lot (17) drawn was awarded to the orphans of John Taylor of Washington County.   On September 11, 1805, Lister Crafford, Charles Whitehead and Avery Dye became the first persons to pay the fee of $4.00 per hundred acres to obtain their grants in the district. William Hill, of Greene Co.,  was granted Land Lot 232 upon which the town of Dublin would be created seven years later.  Thacker Vivion and Cornelious Whittenton were among the few drawers who obtained prizes with both draws, as was James Lucky of Augusta who lived up to his name when he was awarded Lot 92.

Blackshear's Ferry Area, 1805.
Blue line is the Lower Uchee Trail,
which crossed the Oconee River
at Carr's Bluff. 

Ironically the most valuable lands were not the whole lots but the fractional lots  lying along the Oconee River and Turkey Creek.  A public auction was held at the capital in Louisville to auction off the lots to the highest bidders, who obtained their grants on February 1, 1806.  Especially prized were the lots for the location of lucrative ferries.  Elijah Blackshear bought five lots at the site of the first
Blackshear’s Ferry. Just down the river at the site of the present day Blackshear’s Ferry, James and William Beatty purchased two fractional lots for their ferry, the first authorized by Laurens County. General John Scott, a prominent early founder of Baldwin County, bought two lots at the point where the Lower Uchee Trail crossed the Oconee at Carr’s Bluff.  Gen. Scott also bought a lot up the river at the mouth of Rocky Creek.  Nearer the future site of Dublin, George Gaines bought a large fractional lot which became the eastern part of the town. Gaines was granted a license in 1806 by the Montgomery County Inferior Court to establish a ferry at the point where an old Indian trail from Indian Springs to Savannah crossed the river. Even further down the river, William Neel bought lots to establish his ferry, which was located at the current day site of the Riverview Golf Course. Jonathan Sawyer, who founded Dublin in 1811, bought a fractional land lot at Fish Trap Cut where the river was at one of its narrowest points.  Seymour Bonner purchased the last fractional lot (26) on the Telfair Road at Turkey Creek  on February 28, 1856.

The Second Land District encompassed 340 lots in Wilkinson County and Laurens County, which embraced 174 whole lots (156 in 2005)  and 28 fractional lots.   These lots were located between Turkey Creek and the river and north of the mouth of Rocky Creek.  Holland Summer, Joseph Tilley, Malachi Maund and John Kent, all of Burke County, moved quickly and were awarded their grants on
September 4, 1805.  As was the case in the First Land District Turkey Creek lands, those at the point where the Uchee Trail crossed Turkey Creek were especially prized by bidders.  James Thompson, Laurens County’s first sheriff, bought Lot 3.  Edmond Hogan, one of the county’s first justices of the Inferior Court, purchased lots 7 and 8 at the point where the Gallimore Trail would soon cross Turkey Creek.  John Thomas, son of Peter Thomas, whose home was used for the first session of Laurens County Superior Court, secured 171.5 acres of prime land at the trail crossing site.

Because of an early fire in the Wilkinson County courthouse it is difficult to determine how many of the fortunate drawers actually took up their grants within the first year.  As many as half of the grants were probably sold to settlers, land speculators and adjoining land owners.  The unpredicted success of the 1805 lottery led to a second lottery in 1807, which disbursed the remaining lands of Laurens
County west of the Oconee.